CINCINNATI -- New baseball and softball fields are already installed. Walls are going up. An ambitious construction project is moving at turbo speed toward completion.
Baseball rarely seems just over the horizon on Thanksgiving, but the latest Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in the Roselawn section of Cincinnati will soon provide a bounty of opportunity for kids who want to play the game.
"The building should resemble our Spring Training facility, which is another great stroke by our ownership group," Reds Community Fund executive director Charley Frank said. "They want this facility to be a beacon, not only to Roselawn and Bond Hill, but to all over Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky."
Fundraising for the project by the Reds Community Fund -- which is the non-profit arm of the Reds -- turned a corner in 2013. It included a $1.5 million contribution from Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig in January. Overall costs are expected to reach $7 million.
Construction began in July and the four baseball and softball fields, the stadium, a two-story observation tower, restrooms and concessions area are expected to be completed by March 1, 2014. That will be just in time for Walnut Hills and Purcell Marian high schools to use them as their home fields.
A 34,000 square foot indoor training center is expected to be ready to open on June 1, 2014, a full year ahead of schedule.
Cincinnati's is the seventh MLB Urban Youth Academy to be either opened or already in development and the first in the Midwest. The academies provide free, year-round baseball and softball instruction. The Reds hope to soon expand their current academy to include education, vocation and job-training programs.
Frank and the RCF were thankful for the involvement of the Reds, namely Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, for being on board and having the same vision.
"The process to get here has been a tricky one," Frank said. "The scope of the project has changed significantly. It's grown and a huge piece of that credit goes to Reds ownership and management. They really want this facility to be the best of its kind.
"When Joe Morgan got involved two years ago, he said, 'I will do everything I can to be a part of this but only if this one becomes the new benchmark.' I think we were inspired to do that already, but hearing Joe's words and seeing the way he went about convincing Commissioner Selig, Frank Robinson and Major League Baseball to support this at the level they have has been very inspiring to us."
Now in its fifth year since opening in 2009, the current phase of the Reds Urban Youth Academy remains vibrant at the Gamble Montessori School in Winton Terrace. The site has drawn 600 visitors, which is pacing way ahead of the previous four years, as it serves youth ages 8-18.
Once the Urban Youth Academy moves to its new home, the Reds expect it to host local tournaments and bring in national MLB events like the RBI program.
With many of the targeted youth in the program coming from single-parent and single-income families, in which that one parent works multiple jobs to keep afloat, the goal is to provide opportunity that might otherwise be tough to find.
"It's tough," Frank said. "That's one of the reasons that baseball and softball have struggled in the urban core. As much as anything, that's why we exist -- to give kids in the inner city the training and experiences and mentoring to embrace baseball or softball, and use it as a way to get to college and beyond."
There were other community success stories for the RCF in 2013, namely the Procter and Gamble Community Makeover project in Avondale. During an entire August day, more than 300 volunteer workers from P&G, the Reds, the Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Children's Hospital turned up to help transform a neighborhood.
Besides revamping fields at the Hirsch Recreation Center, the project also made improvements at Gabriel's Place -- including a farmer's market.
"The P&G community makeover moving to Avondale and the project that took place at Gabriel's Place and Hirsch recreational center was such a dynamic shift from anything we've ever done, in terms of project that involved baseball at its core, but had so much more community engagement to it," Frank said. "We really found a new model for that community makeover and the results in Avondale were unbelievable."
The Reds, P&G and a new partner in the Cincinnati Zoo are now accepting applications from a different part of the area for the 2014 Community Makeover.
Field makeovers have been a core initiative of the Reds Community Fund since 2006, and more took place over this year with the aid of corporate partners on the east end of Cincinnati, Golf Manor, Lincoln Heights and Winton Terrace.
A jewel project -- Brian Wilson Field in Clermont County, Ohio, opened in May. It was a project largely unwritten with contributions by Reds right fielder Jay Bruce to honor the late scout who signed him out of high school. The facility now hosts the Reds Rookie Success League of Clermont County, a free, coed, character-building summer baseball program for underserved kids, ages 7-10. It also serves as the home of the University of Cincinnati-Clermont baseball team.
Click here for more information on the other programs supported by the Reds Community Fund.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.